Saturday, December 12, 2009

Final Days

A friend is losing her husband. It really sucks because she was in a very unhappy marriage that took her years and much pain to get out of. She went it alone for a few years with her two boys who are now grown men. She became involved in local politics and met a man who was a long-term bachelor. They became friends and then they became lovers and were married. She was happier than I've ever known her to be. Not very long after their marriage, he was diagnosed with Stage IV esophageal cancer.

Last Sunday, I went over to her house to watch him while she went Christmas shopping. Hospice had provided them with nursing visits, a feeding tube and a hospital bed. At that point, he was sleeping most of the time. About every hour, he woke up and tried to sit up and asked for his wife. Like a child, he was comforted by the news that she would be home in a few hours, each time asking me what time it was now and how long until she was expected home. When she got home, she gently woke him and told him she was home.

That night he was admitted to Hospice. I was not able to go visit her until Friday night. I spent several hours with them Friday night. He was not able to speak anymore; experienced quite a bit of what they call terminal restlessness; and needed to have her in his sight most of the time. It is hard to know what he is thinking as he is not able to talk. He seemed to recognize voices and he certainly tracked his wife with his eyes.

Saturday morning, I went over again. She tried to lay with him in his bed, but because of the way he was laying, it upset him too much. He could hear her voice, but could not see her. So she moved to the chair to hold his hand. Watching her with him these last week has been very moving. She speaks to him in a firm quiet voice, telling him that everything is ok, he shouldn't be upset, he should stop fighting, she has taken care of everything. It is hard to know how much he understands of what is going on around him, but today he smiled at her and lifted his head off the pillow so that she would kiss him. After she kissed him, he smiled again.

Friends come in and out to visit him. Some are not able to visit - it upsets them too much. This morning, his former neighbors came to see him. A young couple with a teenage daughter: The wife was able to visit with him but her husband began crying as soon as he came into the room. He fled quickly for the hallway and did not return. The teenage daughter was awkward and nervous in the face of death. She said hello and then also began to cry.

Hospice here is a wonderful place. The facility is beautiful and the nurses are so kind and helpful. But as my friend said today, no one should have to go thru this process.